Remarkable Onions takes nine
Durham 194 and 27 for 0 lead Nottinghamshire 154 (Onions 9-67) by 67 runs
Graham Onions has suffered some ups and downs in his career but will not have too many ups to rival this one. It began with the disappointment of being told, for the third Test match in a row, that his selection for the England squad would not be rewarded with a place in the team. It ended with career-best figures of 9 for 67 for Durham.
In between, there was a 125-mile dash up the M1 to fulfil the arrangement agreed that he would replace Mitch Claydon in this match if available. Although he knew at breakfast that the plan was for Stuart Broad, James Anderson and Steven Finn to form England's seam attack against South Africa at Lord's, he had to warm up and be prepared to play in the event of a mishap. He left only after the captains had tossed and arrived at Trent Bridge, at lunchtime, just as the Durham first innings was coming to a close.
"It was almost literally out of the car and on to the field," he said. "I didn't have any lunch and I haven't had any tea, either, so I'm pretty hungry."
Clearly, he had an appetite for wickets, too, spurred by the frustration of his omission from the Test side. After his long recovery from back surgery, he played in the rain-hit third Test against the West Indies at Edgbaston -- his first Test cap for 30 months -- but wanted the chance to test himself against batsmen of the South Africans' calibre.
"When you are there and so close the frustration at not playing is huge," he said. "I've had the good fortune to play a Test match at Lord's on a couple of occasions but I wanted the chance to play this time against some of the best batsmen in the world. But I love playing for Durham and to come back like this and take wickets has put the smile back on my face."
In an extraordinary twist that will make the occasion even more memorable, if that is possible, Onions denied himself the chance to take all 10 wickets through his own ability to project a cricket ball so accurately. With the fall of Graeme White, caught at first slip off a ball that was too good for him not to nick, he had all eight at that moment. But in the next over, bowled by Scott Borthwick, he fielded a ball turned behind square by Luke Fletcher and beat the batsman's attempt to run a single with a direct hit to the non-striker's end.
Otherwise, there seemed every chance that Onions would have taken all 10 and become the first to do so -- and the 81st of all time -- since his former teammate, Ottis Gibson, did so for Durham against Hampshire in 2007, a match in which Onions had played. "I remember thinking at the time, 'if only I could know how he felt' after doing it," Onions said.
After a brief limber-up while his colleagues were still digesting lunch, Onions took his first wicket with the sixth ball of his opening over as Alex Hales was leg before to a ball that kept low. Hales was not the first who suffered in that way, Riki Wessels being another, and there were a couple of lbw decisions that might have been seen as generous to the bowler, certainly by the batsmen involved, Steven Mullaney and Paul Franks, but it did not detract from a superb exhibition of high quality seam and swing bowling.
Michael Lumb was caught in his crease by a full length ball and Adam Voges could do little to defend the ball that moved late to trim his off stump. Only Chris Read, with an uncharacteristic, airy drive at his first ball, could be said to have given Onions a cheap wicket. Franks, who plainly felt he had something to prove in a season that has seen him slip out of favour somewhat, played well for his 53 but otherwise no one offered much to stem the bowler's momentum.
Andy Carter, comprehensively cleaned up as Onions finished with a flourish, was victim number nine with the third ball of his 17th over as Nottinghamshire were bowled out in three hours, give or take a few minutes, conceding a lead of 40. The 10 had eluded him and while he was hardly complaining about nine there was room in his thoughts to ponder on what might have been.
"When I hit the stumps for the run-out, I was delighted to get the wicket but I suppose now you think to yourself it would have been fantastic to get all 10 wickets. I knew when I got to seven that all 10 was a possibility and although I was tired I knew I had to keep going. But, look, I can't be unhappy with nine. It's a very good achievement and I'm very proud of that."
For Nottinghamshire, it was horribly reminiscent of what Stephen Harmison did to them in similar circumstances in 2009, when he was released from a Test match at Lord's and arrived at Trent Bridge to take 1 for 45 and then 6 for 20 as Nottinghamshire, forced to follow on, were beaten by an innings.
This match will have a different outcome. Durham's lead is a modest one, brought about not only by the deeds of Onions but by a last-wicket partnership of 50 between Mark Wood and Chris Rushworth that rescued them from 144 for 9 after some woeful batting. Will Smith and Mark Stoneman had extended it by 27 at the close and the contest has a good chance it will recover from the loss of two sessions on the opening day, although more rain is forecast.